Individual Book Ratings:
The Hunger Games:
Five Torches (Out of Five)
Four Torches (Out of Five)
One and a Half Torches (Out of Five)
I’m wracking my brain: I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed by the third book in a trilogy as I was by MockingJay, the third book in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy of teen sci-fi books.
It’s one of those works that’s so disappointing — that’s such a clunky hollow shell of a book — that is has me questioning my love for other books by the same author. Am I misremembering how good the first two books were? Did I somehow misinterpret them at the time?
But no, The Hunger Games is still a terrific page-turner, one of the best in the now-popular genre of dystopian teen fiction.
The idea itself was nothing fresh — in a post-apocalyptic world, a totalitarian government keeps control by forcing various “districts” to send 24 of their teenagers to a “fight to the death” in a venue full of dangers that itself changes annually.
Catching Fire, the second book, was, frankly, a bit of disappointment, because rather than extend the story to some interesting, new place, Collins mostly just repeated the plot of the first book — oh, no, she has to go back to the Hunger Games a second time! Still, the characterizations were a little richer and the stakes a little higher. And the “games” themselves were mostly pretty different, and the book had the same zippy pacing, and a nicely thrilling plot (even if Katniss, the main character, was less central to the action this time around).
But MockingJay? It’s one of those books where literally everything successful about it is simply recycled material from the first two books — recycled in a mostly boring way, unfortunately.
I remember when Collins first presented us with the whole concept of the MockingJay in The Hunger Games: the jabberjays (a species genetically created by the Capitol to be spies and record conversations, but ultimately used against then) bred with mockingbirds, creating something new and different: a hybrid species.
My first thought was, “Oh, that is enormously clever! And I bet it’s going to end up being integral to the plot is some cool, unexpected way.”
But no, it just ends up being a ham-fisted metaphor for Katniss, emphasized over and over again.
MockingJay is a book of completely missed opportunities.
After her two experiences in the games, Katniss is now experiencing a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s overcome by anger and resentment — so much so that she’s basically paralyzed by emotion.
On paper, I’m sure this sounded like a good idea — and I do like the idea of showing us the consequences of actually going into the games. But Katniss is so dour and negative and whiny — and, most of all, passive — that it eventually becomes almost impossible to identify with her, or even like her.
Meanwhile, the all-important “love triangle” at the center of the earlier books — Katniss, Peeta, and Gale — comes to a screeching halt and is hardly developed at all. Weirdly, Peeta and Gale barely appear — and Peeta is even more changed by his experiences than Katniss (for reasons that are soon explained).
Two of the other most interesting and indelible characters from the first two books, Haymatch and Cinna, also show up, but they barely register — it seems like they’re making cameo appearances. Why show us these beloved characters at all if they’re so carelessly squandered?
Most of the book seems to consist of Katniss … sitting around waiting (the main “story” literally doesn’t begin until well over halfway through). Katniss seethes and stews a lot too. She’s never been the most active character — except, of course, when she absolutely needs to be, like volunteering to take Prim’s place in the games, or when she’s in the middle of the games themselves.
But in past books, her passiveness make her the typical “reluctant” hero, someone you could root for and identify with. Here she seems almost psychotic. What’s the opposite of plucky? Sure, her reaction is understandable, but it’s not very pleasant to read.
And in a perfect example of how hard it is to overlook flaws and inconsistencies when you’re not otherwise enjoying a book, I kept being frustrated by how the Capitol, which seemed to have virtually unlimited technological power in the first two books, now seemed so impotent and easily defeated. District 13 can simply tap into the TV feeds — forever? The Capitol, which had built that incredibly sophisticated surveillance system, is now so easily penetrated?
And the supposedly searing “concluding twist” involving a certain leader? To me, it seemed completely tacked on to provide some kind of drama, and it was way too heavily foreshadowed anyway.
In preparation for this review, I was curious to see what other outlets have had to say about the book. I was surprised to see that MockingJay is getting mixed to positive reviews by other mainstream outlets. Partly, this doesn’t surprise me too much: in the era of Twilight, and the implosion of “traditional” media and the whole publishing industry, the pressure not to pan a break-out bestseller must be enormous, especially one that’s wildly popular with the kind of teen readers that could just possibly save both traditional media and the publishing industry.
But it does have me wondering: what do other readers really think? Many of the reader-reviews on Amazon are scathing (appropriately, IMHO).
What did TheTorchOnline.com readers think? Chime in in the comments.
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